How many workers does it take to fill an order?

The continuing saga of David A. Vise’s book purchasing oddities make for some interesting story-weaving, but an interesting sidebar is the light it casts on the always bizarre economics of the book publishing business. The Washington Post, the newspaper where Vise works and the paper for which he has won a Pulitzer Prize, is covering the story intensely, but gives Vise plenty of room to defend himself (or enough rope to hang himself).

On the surface, Vise appears to have placed a massive order from for between 16,000-18,000 of his new book, The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen. Then he returned them. B&N went nuts and demanded the publisher pay for shipping. The book-industry media was informed and they naturally assumed Vise was attempting to cook the New York Times Best Seller list.

But Vise says he can explain what he was going to do with all those books. And most amazing to me, his uber-hip New York publisher Morgan Entrekin (a Nashville native and, in a note of full disclosure, the son of my wonderful next-door neighbor), has an explanation of why it cost the author less to purchase the book from than direct from the publisher.

My continuing question since first learning of this story seems to evade the reporters covering this story. Someone, please, ask Barnes & Noble how often they receive orders online for 18,000 books from the same person? From the same person who’s ordering it on their credit card?

18,000 books? How many trucks does it take to deliver 18,000 books?

Update: Seems like I can ask about this myself. I just found out that Vise is also a native Nashvillian and will be speaking at a luncheon I’m attending Monday.